New Study: Local News on Facebook

Associate Professor Matthew Weber leads the assessment of the critical information needs served through Facebook's TodayIn feature.

As part of the News Measures Research Project, the Hubbard School's Associate Professor Matthew Weber was the lead author on "Local news on Facebook: Assessing the critical information needs served through Facebook's TodayIn feature,” in collaboration with Duke’s Peter Andringa and Professor Phil Napoli. 

Work on the report began in March 2019, when after studying the geography of local news — and communities with insufficient news — Facebook announced, as part of its Facebook Journalism Project, that it would share information it gathered with academics in order to further the public understanding of this issue. The study marks the first research to examine the data released by Facebook to academics.

Download the full report: 

Using one month of Facebook's own internal local news data collected for TodayIn, an application within Facebook that surfaces local news stories that have been posted to Facebook and creates separate aggregations for each community served, the research team was able to continue its work on understanding the characteristics of local journalism, and its availability across communities. 

The team writes, "Through this lens, we explore the extent to which the available news address critical information needs, how news consumers interact with the news stories made available to them, and how community characteristics are related to the availability of local news addressing critical information needs."

Based on the analysis of local news data provided by Facebook for February of 2019, a number of key findings emerge that provide insight into local news on Facebook: 

  • For communities meeting Facebook’s threshold for launching the Today In feature, 61% of the stories aggregated were identified as serving a critical information need. 
  • While stories classified as critical information needs only made up 58% of the classified stories across all communities, those stories accounted for 65% of the interactions in that same dataset. Stories satisfying critical information needs received an average of 244 interactions, while stories categorized as not meeting a critical information need had an average of 158 interactions. 
  • Communities that met Facebook’s threshold for launching the Today In feature are larger in terms of population than communities that don’t meet the threshold (76,606 vs. 15,353) - suggesting community size is a key determinant. 
  • Factors such as population, and some US Census categories (percent white, percent college educated) increase the likelihood that stories associated with a community will meet a critical information need.

For more information, or to interview Matthew Weber, you can reach out to him directly at msw@umn.edu

Matthew Weber